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Advice From 80s Music

By Matt Wixon


Reggae star Sean Paul is extremely popular right now, and I'm guessing the same goes for his Web site. After all, Sean-paul.net is where fans can find out about his belief that "life is a gift and you must treasure it," as well as his thoughts on his album: "You done know we got to take care of the ladies, and I'm still giving you those party vibes."

But more importantly, the Web site provides Sean Paul's lyrics. That allows fans to decipher his word blitzes on songs such as "Temperature," a recent chart-topper:

Well woman the way the time cold I wanna be keepin' you warm I got the right temperature to shelter you from the storm Oh lord, gal I got the right tactics to turn you on, and girl I... Wanna be the Papa...You can be the Mom....oh oh!


I think we all understand what's hip-hop-happenin' in that chorus. But back in the '80s, it was much easier to get the message from songs. For example, check out the opening lines of Whitney Houston's "Greatest Love of All," which on this day 20 years ago was top of the pops:

I believe that children are our future
Teach them well and let them lead the way
Show them all the beauty they possess inside

OK, I've got to be honest. I would rather hear a 60-minute loop of "Temperature" than even a snippet of "Greatest Love of All." But Houston's song about dignity and self-respect, which she sang coherently because she had not yet met Bobby Brown, provided a powerful message about life. It was like many other '80s songs, which offered advice for succeeding in life, dealing with problems, and of course, partying like it's 1999.

Here are some examples of important lessons learned from '80s music, but please note that I was dreaming when I wrote this, so forgive me if it goes astray.

Say a problem came along. Devo told us that we must whip it. Whip it good. Poison then cautioned us that every rose has its thorn, and The Buggles told us to watch out for video, because it killed the radio star. In a scarier lesson, Hall and Oates told us to avoid the maneater, a so-called "lean and hungry type" that would only come out at night.

Songs of the '80s also told us about the world. Madonna told us that we are living in a material world, Tears for Fears told us that everybody wants to rule the world, and R.E.M. said it was the end of the world as we know it. Dozens of people, including an old-fashioned human-looking version of Michael Jackson, told us that we are the world.

A lot of times an '80s singer told us to do something, like to wake him up before we go-go, because George Michael — and the other guy in Wham! who did nothing — didn't want to be left hanging on like a yo-yo. We were also told to do "that conga," because Gloria Estefan knew we couldn't control ourselves "any longa."

There were also a lot of cautionary "don't" tales, as in Rick Springfield's "Don't Talk to Strangers" and Simple Minds' "Don't You (Forget About Me)." Bobby Brown and Cheap Trick each told us "don't be cruel," The Police told us "don't stand so close to me," and in an unfortunately unforgettable song, Bobby McFerrin told us "don't worry, be sappy." Wait, I mean happy.

And to be happy, '80s music told us to stand up for ourselves. We needed to have the "eye of the tiger," Survivor said, and we needed to fight authority, even if John Mellencamp admitted authority always wins. If those stodgy elders wouldn't budge, Twisted Sister advised us to yell, "we're not gonna take it," although from watching their video, the band might have been referring to high prices on hairspray, lipstick and eyeliner.

Kenny Loggins told us to "cut footloose," a great example of '80s music telling us to break down societal norms, and if an abandoned factory is nearby, to do gymnastic dance moves on a high bar. It was a decade of dancing — in the street (David Bowie and Mick Jagger), in the dark (Bruce Springteen), on the ceiling (Lionel Richie) and with myself (Billy Idol). It was a decade of parties, maybe because the Beastie Boys told us to fight for our right to party. One girl even wanted to party all the time, Eddie Murphy said, but I'm guessing not at a party at which he would be singing. You'd have to be a king of pain to endure that.

But '80s music was mostly about love, and most of us needed a little help with that, even if we looked like Don Johnson in a white suit or Olivia Newton John in leg warmers. Fortunately, Phil Collins reminded us that "you can't hurry love." Aerosmith told us about love in an elevator, Def Leppard told us that love bites, Soft Cell sang about tainted love, Tina Turner asked "what's love got to do with it?" and Samantha Fox passed along that "naughty girls need love too." Jody Watley was looking for a new love, and I hope she knew what Pat Benatar knew — that love is a battlefield.

That all led into the '90s, and although Technotronic did effectively pump up the jam in 1990, things were never really the same once Vanilla Ice hit it big with "Ice, Ice Baby."

Sure, if there was a problem, "yo!" he solved it. But frankly, Ice, I'd rather whip it than "check out the hook while my deejay revolves it."

And there's nothing wrong with that. I think Bobby B. would agree that it's my prerogative. 

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